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C. Fraser Smith: Hometown boy runs for president

Martin O’Malley stood before the nation on Saturday, promising to rescue the American Dream.

Big promise. And yet, just by running, he’s rescued part of it.

I’m talking about the dream – the challenge – your mother and father put in front of you.

You can aspire to be anything, they said.

Even president. Run for it at least.

Do parents still say that to their kids? Or has the whole thing gotten a bit tattered and soiled?

Not for O’Malley.

The naysaying smart money guys scoffed at him when he made a trip to Iowa and then to New Hampshire. Pure ego, they said. What’s he smoking? Less than 10 percent of Marylanders “polled” by The Sun this week said O’Malley would make a good president – 88 percent said not so much.

Actually, the poll was anything but scientific. Other, more professional measures put the pro-O’Malley side much higher. Not in the stratosphere to be sure, but higher.

Still, he’s got no shot, right? And yet he runs.

What does he know that Marylanders don’t?

Front-runners who can’t lose do lose. O’Malley knows things change in politics. (Two more candidates, one Republican, one Democrat announced this week.) People might even decide he’s the best candidate – but only if he runs.

Or maybe he’s running for name recognition this time, imagining a year when the field does not include Hillary Rodham Clinton, thought to be a mortal lock for the 2016 Democratic nomination.      Whatever.

Already, he’s way ahead of the scoffers. He’s the go-to candidate in the Democratic field. When the press wants another point of view besides Clinton’s, O’Malley’s the one.

The process does not include a coronation, he points out. It’s not a crown to be passed around by the elites, he said Saturday.

You have to campaign for the job. Competition is part of the dream. So, he’s running to save the process.

He’ll be helping Clinton. Won’t she face competition from the Republican candidate? Won’t the GOP candidate be a seasoned debater by then? She may get a workout from Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist. But Martin will be part of that drama if he stays in.

“He’s going to win,” said Councilwoman Rikki Spector. She came to the O’Malley announcement, wearing her black and white BELIEVE button. O’Malley started the BELIEVE campaign when he was mayor.

Difficult to define, the campaign had people thinking. You could have your own definition. Believe you can be great. Believe the best is yet to come. Believe in yourself.

He says he learned something from the late Richard Ben Cramer. Cramer wrote “What It Takes,” now a classic about running for president.

What advice did Cramer have for him, I asked a year or so ago.

Think more, talk less. Make sure you know in your heart why you’re running. Then, when it gets tough, you won’t wobble.

So there was Martin O’Malley at Federal Hill Park Saturday with the American flag to his left and Baltimore’s glimmering renaissance behind him. His splendid family stood with him. Perfect optics, as they say now.

He will have to say later exactly what role he played in the Baltimore renaissance. He will have to explain why he was right to order zero-tolerance policing. He will have to say why a man with little if any foreign policy experience should be president of the United States.

In his speech, he covered a frightful list of issues: the dream-killing wage gap, Wall Street’s boom versus Joe Lunchpail’s sagging fortunes, global warming, saving cities and so forth.

Do we need more than one take on these challenges?

On Saturday O’Malley called friends and supporters to a city version of meeting in the town square. Roll out the bunting. Strike up the band.

Hometown boy runs for president.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His email address is




One comment


    Yeah, if by “hometown” you mean Bethesda.